11/28/2011 11:14 am ET Updated Jan 28, 2012

"For Heaven's Sake, Out With It Already!" Impatience as Artistic Virtue in the Work of Jason Shawn Alexander

This essay was written in conjunction with "Undertow," an exhibition of Alexander's new work at 101/exhibit gallery. The show opens December 1 and runs until February 8, 2012. The gallery is located at 101 NE 40th Street, Miami. For more information call (305) 573-2101 or visit

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo (not to mention Rembrandt, Goya, Degas, Anselm Kiefer, Kathe Kollwitz, Cy Twombly, Alice Neel, and Patrick Graham) ...

-- "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
T.S. Eliot

Struggling with and exquisitely expressing the up- and the down-side of the creative process, the expressionist figuration of Jason Shawn Alexander embodies his impatience with artistic creation. Figures (including the artist) exist at simultaneous stages of incompletion; they are not comfortable in their pictorial spaces; they writhe and contort with physical and existential duress. Because of their vivid, skittish portrayal, so do we.



The result is an emotional cubism that, cumulatively, suggests his frustration with getting fully-developed figures onto the once-pristine and otherwise stable confines of a canvas. He may go into each piece seeking to articulate the world around him but, as the paintings show, it's more a matter of finding and then managing the result. Each piece describes the process of the maturation of a painting, each with an attendant impatience that exists at the level of pre-style (before figuration, before abstraction) and absolute but unrealized potentiality (an artist's work is never done ). That's what grounds his work, impatience, an impatience to find a voice that, ironically, turns out to be the voice itself.



This impatience is embodied in both his figures (the facial expressions, gestures, postures) and his compositions. Despite the apparent entropy of the figures that, even in repose, move in all directions at once, the compositions are strangely balanced. For every torso, there's a counterpoised edge, for every head, there's a corresponding splash of paint. Suggesting a moment-by-moment, perpetual metamorphosis, these dervishes of paint describe a coherent system, a law of nature: nothing is ever stable, nothing is ever complete.


"Orion Searching"

He may be the midwife who gives birth to these figures but, like a newborn child, these figures will continue to mature and develop. Sinuous or diagonal, in any event squirming, his lines are slashy and edgy. The figures' skin -- and the space they inhabit -- looks like layers of accumulated wallpaper in a dilapidated house, which offers a keen metaphor for Alexander's aesthetic of perpetual rejuvenation. The colors resonate low key and mute, in a minor key, as befits the Delta Blues music of his childhood. At times the paint is transparent, at other times it's opaque; often, and in the same figure, it's both, presenting (pick one) an x-ray, an ultrasound, or else a pentimenti of what was, is, and will come. Some of the figures are rendered full, 3-D almost, some are doodled as a pre- or after-thought. These figures are situated in mostly-geometric squares of varying transparencies that serve as the temporal equivalent of Hans Hoffman's spatial push-pull.



At the heart of this equivocation lies the matter of finish. The work may be organic, in progress, ever-changing, but is it ever done? The works' tone has much in common with John Keats's absolute, unchanging Bright Star, "awake forever in a sweet unrest." Except that nothing appears to be finished. Alexander shows the effort -- the frustration, the impatience -- that goes into trying to resolve a canvas that doesn't want to be resolved. Hence the virtue of impatience: it tells a gripping story.


"Sisyphus Combine"

Though he may offer moments of clarity -- a perfectly angled elbow, a sharply chiseled nose, the aha-moment of a pair of eyes -- the work quivers between doing and done, becoming and became, finishing and, well, aspiring to the infinite. All this points to a simple, profound and hard won truth: Learn to live with uncertainty; nothing is permanent, nothing is fully formed. In the hands of Jason Shawn Alexander, the words of Paul Klee ring true: "Art is the accidental congestion of matter."


"In Progress"